And you thought the Rangers didn’t have money to burn.
How many other teams in 2021 will be able to boast of reserve middle infielders pulling down more than $25 million between them? Now, that’s living large.
On Tuesday, Rangers management yanked the band-aid off the still-oozing scar of long-term investments into Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor that have not borne fruit. Andrus, general manager Jon Daniels and manager Chris Woodward announced, will not go to camp as the starting shortstop for the first time in his 13-year career in February. He has been replaced by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who demonstrated defensive excellence at third base.
Daniels and Woodward said almost the same thing about Nick Solak replacing Odor at second base. The difference: The Rangers know Kiner-Falefa, who won a Gold Glove at third base in his first year at the position in 2020, can play elite defense. They are not sure Solak, a hitter without a position, can adequately defend at second. They will, however, give him every opportunity to demonstrate he can next spring. Odor will be work some at second in the spring but also will work at other positions such as third base and left field.
“Sometimes it’s important to pick a path and allow everyone to prepare a certain way,” Daniels said. “We talked about it late in the season a little bit. We tried to let it breathe a little bit and let everybody kind of step away from the year, and when we came back and met again and talked it over, I think everyone had additional conviction that this was the right move as far as not just 2021 but setting things up beyond.”
Make no mistake: This is all about the future. Moving Kiner-Falefa to short creates a clear path for top prospect Josh Jung to reach the majors sometime in 2021. It gives the Rangers a full year to evaluate whether Kiner-Falefa can hit enough to dissuade them from diving into the best free agent market for shortstops ever after the 2021 season. It gives them a chance to finally install Solak at a position and let him focus on it.
It potentially leaves the Rangers with nearly 30% of what is expected to be an approximately $100 million payroll sitting on the bench. Andrus will make $14.25 million in both 2021 and 2022. Odor is scheduled to make $12.3 million in each of the next two years. Both players have contract options for 2023. The Rangers can buy out Odor’s for $3 million.
Andrus’ situation is more complicated. If he were to get 1,100 plate appearances over the next two years or 550 in 2022, it would trigger the $15 million option. If he were traded, it would make the option a player option. Andrus, who would be 34 after 2022, would almost certainly choose to exercise that option. Add that to his ability to veto any trade due to service time rights, declining performance and a history of